The Laundress (La Blanchisseuse), c. 1863, by Honoré Daumier. This painting exists in another two versions, one of which is owned by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
In the context of art, naturalism is a kind of painting that attempts to look reality square in the face. It seeks to depict people and their transactions with as much honesty as is possible. Since naturalism arose in tandem with the Industrial Revolution, it frequently investigated the changes which the Industrial Revolution wrought.
The Third-Class Carriage, 1863-65, by Honoré Daumier. While Daumier has us focus on one family—a mother with her infant child, a tired grandmother and a sleeping boy—they represent all of the working class, with their solid bodies and weary stoicism.
In Daumier’s era, washerwomen did their work at lavoirs, which were public places set aside for clothes washing. It was dismal and hard work. Duamier lived on the Quai d'Anjou on the Île Saint-Louis. This afforded him many opportunities to see the washerwomen at their work along the Seine. His washerwomen, would have been amused by the modern conceit of “Take Our Daughters And Sons To Work Day” since it was a fact of life for the 19th century poor. They are tired, but they are strong, and they exhibit the same monumentality as Millet’s gleaners.
Having grown up in a working class household himself, Daumier was uniquely sensitive to working class life. However, he did not just paint the poor; he depicted (and caricaturized) the whole gamut of French society.
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